Getting on track for Guy’s Cancer
As a medical professional, Dr Mark Ashworth is used to spotting symptoms. So, he was shocked to be diagnosed with prostate cancer when there were no obvious signs.
Six years on, the former GP, now King’s College London researcher explains how he is combining his love of cycling with his passion for innovative medical research as he prepares for the Liège to London Bike Ride for Guy’s Cancer.
In April 2013, I was 56 and had been in excellent health, apart from pretty trivial urinary symptoms and slightly raised PSAs (prostate-specific antigen) which is a small protein molecule which is released from the prostate gland into the bloodstream.
I was referred to the Guy’s Cancer team who suggested an MRI scan to see what the problem was. It didn’t seem like very much was wrong. In fact, doing an MRI scan seemed like a formality. But it turned out that it wasn’t the best of news.
Although it was conveyed with great compassion, I had prostate cancer and it had already spread to my spine, pelvis and to a couple of ribs. “How did it get there?”; “How come I didn’t notice a thing?”, I wondered.
As a GP, I felt I should have noticed something. But my story is very unusual. Most people who have prostate cancer with secondary bone cancer would have symptoms, but I had none at all. Breaking the news to my family was very tough, we have four children, then aged 15-18.
My treatment was a two-month long blitz of radiotherapy on a Tomotherapy machine. Tomotherapy delivers super-targeted radiotherapy, where they map out a 3D image of the prostate and zap the 3D image.
Ominously, when it first started, one of the doctors said the outlook was “about six months” if the response to treatments wasn’t good. Luckily for me, my cancer responded well. Three years later, I had a tiny recurrence on the bone scan, so I began a short course of radium injections.
Six years on, I’m fit and well again, and enjoying a new career in medical research, thanks to an amazing team and the benefits of scientific innovation. Most of my treatments have been developed over the past decade.
Back on my bike
Fitness has always been an important part of my life. I was a GP who cycled for 30 years, I used to like my rides into work, riding around my practice area doing home visits and getting to chat to patients. At weekends I was often out on the bike too, usually with children in tow. Even without training, I wouldn’t have too much difficulty doing a ride from London to Brighton now.
But for Liège to London, I’ll need to do a lot of extra training. I’ve been doing my weekend training, a few laps of Richmond Park, spinning classes, slowly building it up. My normal baseline of fitness is pretty reasonable, but with the training, it’s very gratifying to see a visible improvement.
What riding in Liège to London means to me
To be cycling in this team of other cancer survivors and clinical staff is wonderful. It’s really special to have that link. When else do patients and cancer professionals get to meet like this? It’s a great way to bring together the common interest, from different perspectives.
In terms of my own interest, the more new treatments there are the better. It’s fantastic that consultants who have an intense and demanding work life are doing this kind of intense fundraising too.
This is the second big fundraising challenge I’ve done for Guy’s Cancer. In 2016, a group of us cycled from Land’s End to London. It was a remarkable experience, meeting people like me who had cancer, life-saving chemo and more. It was very inspiring to hear people’s stories. Sharing our stories was so powerful.
How I hope our fundraising can make a difference
Fundraising events are so important. We need a lot more money to fund research and treatment for prostate and other urological cancers like bladder, testicular and kidney. I see how much funding has moved on in the last 10 years, let’s have just as big a change in the next decade.
But Liège to London isn’t just about the money. It’s about building a team, winning hearts and minds, it’s about saying this is an important subject for us to share, whether you’ve had cancer or not.
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